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October 17, 2007

Overcrowding problems in the Nutmeg State

As detailed in this New York Times article, Connecticut is yet another state on a ever-growing list that is struggling with its ever-growing prison population.  Here are a few specifics from the piece:

Cubicles built for four are crammed with eight inmates, and enclosed areas known as dollhouses where inmates once played cards and wrote letters now hold 14 bunk beds.  The corridors are lined with more beds. 

Each large room at the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution once had 50 beds and now has 118. The dual prison, one part in Enfield and the other in Somers, is part of a system so overcrowded that it tests the state's resolve to get tough on criminals. Correction officers who work at this dormitory-style, minimum security prison say the cramped conditions give them little room to maneuver and little hope of keeping small problems from turning into big ones....

The arrest in July of two parolees in the grisly murders of a mother and her two daughters in Cheshire, followed closely by a carjacking involving a parolee, touched off a wave of official responses that were intended to address flaws in the criminal justice system, but that also made crowded prisons even more crowded. Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered the Department of Correction to temporarily stop granting parole to violent offenders, a class that now includes home burglars. "Security comes first," the governor said in a Sept. 21 statement.

In addition, prosecutors are holding out for stiffer plea bargains, and judges are imposing longer sentences.  Ms. Rell has promised a top-to-bottom review of the state’s criminal justice system, but in recent weeks, as policy makers have been discussing the issue, pressure has been building. The union that represents two-thirds of the 7,000 employees at the Department of Correction said Monday that its members counted 821 temporary beds — they resemble plastic toboggans with mattresses — in use in 11 of the state’s 18 prisons one night last week.  "My members believe we're already at a crisis population," said Jon Pepe, president of a correction officers union.  "We're only managing them because the population is letting us manage them."

UPDATE:  Anyone interested in more background and discussion of the problems of overcrowding Connecticut should be keeping up with the blogging done by Gideon at "a public defender," who has been following these overcrowding problems very effectively.

October 17, 2007 at 02:17 PM | Permalink


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As someone who has worked in a number of prisons, I would agree that the conditions in terms of overcrowding is an issue. What I don't understand is why that always translates into our CJ system is too harsh (not saying Prof Berman said that; but we often heard it). Perhaps the solution is to build more prisons? Unless we're willing to dramatically change our drug laws, I don't think there's much chance that the population trends will reverse themselves.

Moreover, even if prison populations stabilize -- many prisons are falling apart. But the questions is: would people from both sides of the political spectrum be willing to build more of them?

Posted by: Steve | Oct 17, 2007 3:16:09 PM

I'm pretty sure that the campaign contributions of Corporations that own private prisons will soon pay off. I wouldn't be surprised if they introduce a new bill to build more prisons, along with a new crime bill to put the remaining of the minorities in prison.

Posted by: EJ | Oct 17, 2007 4:08:08 PM

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